Boy Overboard

Jamal and his sister both love to play football. They have lots of friends and a kind loving family.  But this is Afghanistan where conflict prevails. Games are interrupted by landmines and there are laws that don’t allow girls to play football. Jamal’s mum has been secretly running a school, but when this is discovered, the family must leave and make a long and dangerous journey to Australia.  Although the subject matter is serious, Gleitzman manages to use humour to make this an accessible story for upper primary school children.

‘Penalty shot,’ says Bibi, eyes gleaming. She steps back, hitches up her skirt, runs at the ball and boots it.
The ball flies up the street. For a sickening second I think it’s going to smash through Mr Nasser’s one unbroken window. But it curves away from his house and sails all the way up the street.
And thumps into the door of our house.
It’s the most incredible kick I’ve seen in my life.
‘Wow,’ I whisper.

Then our house explodes.
A white flash lights up the whole village and half the desert. A roar of wind smashes into us and flings us both to the ground. I roll onto Bibi and try to cover as much of her body with mine as I can while the air rips at us and stones rain down on us. People are screaming and running out of houses.
‘Get off,’ yells Bibi, ‘You’re squashing my head.’

I roll over and peer down the street through the dust.
Our house is gone. Where it was is just a dark gap between the other houses. Rubble is lying where Dad used to park the taxi.
I stare, speechless, ears ringing, trying to take it all in.
My mouth is open and full of grit.
It was a hard kick, but it wasn’t that hard.

Key Themes

Distant places
Human rights

Book Information

Author:  Morris Gleitzman
Publisher:  Puffin
ISBN 978-0141316253

Our responses

A rich and well-written book for exploring difficult issues. 

Gleitzman effectively uses humour to make issues of conflict, survival, power and powerlessness, accessible. 

It got us looking for images of Afghanistan and more factual information about the country and made us think about how the country and its people are portrayed through the media.

I found lots of images of Afghanistan – positive and negative – and used these to challenge children’s ideas about the place and its people. The children and I were surprised by how beautiful the country is.

Children’s responses

Comments from Glenmead School, Yr 5 and Shustoke Primary School, Yr 4

The book raised lots of questions from children that as teachers we didn’t necessarily have the answers to, such as ‘Why were the landmines there?’, ‘Whose responsibility is it to clear them?’, ‘Why do they fight?’. 

Some of the children in my class said they would be scared, but then others said they wouldn’t be scared because that life would be normal for them.

The children were challenged when they realised that the book was describing events similar to those taking place today.

Useful websites

Scattered People Project
A photo documentary following the lives of three people and their journey to, and experiences in, Australia.

Pearson Schools and FE Colleges
Support materials for using this text.
Click here

Picture Books to support this text

Silence Seeker, Ben Morley
The Colour of Home, Mary Hoffman
Out of Iraq, Sybella Wilkes
The Arrival, Shaun Tan

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